Crafting the Perfect Author Bio
Hello and happy 2018! I got almost zero writing done over the Christmas season and was basically an extended edition hot mess for all of December. But fingers crossed, January will be kinder to me.
Back in November I wrote a guest post for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference blog (a conference that I have mentioned here and here). It was such a fun post because I got to look back on the weird and wonderful ways God finally led a literary agent into my life (full story here). The article was fun to write and it was great to be able to express my gratitude to the conference for its contribution toward my budding career, but there was also an added bonus: I met a new friend!
Blogger and Christian writer Elizabeth Thompson reached out to me after reading my article, and said that what really convinced her to say hello and introduce herself was my author bio.
“I laughed so hard at your bio that was like, 'Okay, I need to meet this girl.'” -email from Elizabeth :)
I was so thrilled to make this new connection with a kindred spirit, and it may never had happened if I had not changed my approach to author bios.
What is an author bio? We most often see author bios at the bottom of articles on our favorite blogs or periodicals. You can also find an author bio on the back or the inside cover of every book that you read. It’s the one paragraph blurb that serves as the “get to know the writer” copy. Its purpose varies, depending on the context of the bio. More on that later.
Elements of an author bio.
An author bio is usually comprised of four basic elements.
The writer’s name and title or occupation. Emily H. Jeffries is a YA writer and teacher of Catholic Theology.
- (If established) Some awards or accomplishments. Emily is the author of the NY Times Bestselling memoir, LESSONS IN HUMILIATION and is a regular contributor to the popular self-help blog, YOU CAN’T DO THIS.
- A description of the writer. She lives in Wyoming with her two weasels, Boris and Karloff.
- Contact info. You can connect with Emily via her Twitter account, @chilipepper2886 or through her website,
Now, if you are like me and there is really not much to brag about yet, it is perfectly acceptable to skip element 2. In fact, even if you do have some career accomplishments but they are extremely boring or would not be impressive to the audience who will view the bio, I’d ration those words for a really smashing description.
Author Bio Flavors
There are several flavors of author bios that tend to circulate, especially online. Some are weaker than others. And some are more appropriate than others. Let’s have a look.
1. The ‘When <FNAME> isn’t writing …” bio:
Ex: When Emily isn’t writing, she’s snuggling with her sixteen cats and drinking chai tea … her favorite!
This one really grinds my gears. The phrase, “when so-and-so isn’t writing” is as overdone as the phrase “for those of you who don’t know me” in a wedding toast. You know that whatever follows is going to be mind numbing. It may have been cute at first, but at this point, it says you have no imagination. And that is not a good quality in a writer!
2. The resume bio:
Ex: Emily is a Christy award nominee, a regular contributor to Focus on the Family, and winner of the 2016 BRCMWC Director’s Choice Award. After working as a journalist for fifteen years, Emily broke into the world of fiction with her debut novel, PANDAS AND PINKIES.
This bio is perfectly fine. Especially if your article is on a high profile periodical or blog, and the tone is higher brow. An article that is researched or an in-depth guide will usually call for this kind of bio. I would also recommend it for a query, since credentials such as these (Pandas and Pinkies is an excellent novel) will bump you up on an agent’s to-consider list. However, if you are pitching a work in genres such as humor, children’s, or adventure, you might consider throwing in a dash of personality as well. Remember, with a query, every word you write is part of the audition.
3. The “I got nothin’’ bio:
Ex: Emily H. Jeffries is a writer from Oklahoma with two boys. She blogs at www.snoozeville.com.
I believe bios like this happen because of that well-known ailment, the imposter complex. After seeing someone’s beefed up resume bio, a writer might be discouraged and feel she has nothing to offer compared to others. So she decides to pull her little turtle head into her shell and disappear before others can make her feel invisible. I totally understand this instinct. Believe me. But it does not come across as humble. Honestly, it makes it look like this is the first article you have ever written, and you don’t care if people read it or not. The bio needs to be inviting. It needs to be confident. No matter what you put, if it is unique to you and genuine, someone will connect with it. So don’t chicken out!
4. The “follow me” bio:
Ex: Emily writes about hamburgers and heartbreak at her blog, Shame on Me. She chronicles her adventures in all of America’s best burger joints on Instagram here. Click here for a free download of Emily’s award winning short story, “I’ll Never Go Bison”.
I don’t have the stats to know whether there is a good conversion rate from this more straightforward advertising as opposed to a more subtle invitation to connect. But marketing is not my strong suit. If you are a good salesman and this kind of bio is a helpful funnel toward your mailing list, go for it. Just make sure the context is appropriate. Obviously, a query to an editor or a book jacket is not the right place for this kind of bio. But a high traffic blog that caters to an audience that overlaps with your product’s target audience makes sense.
5. The worldview bio:
Ex: Emily is an exile from Havana, Cuba whose no-nonsense political essays and articles would have landed her in Castro’s prisons long ago.
This is a useful angle for anyone, but especially those writing non-fiction. Of course, your worldview does not need to be controversial or hard-hitting to draw attention, but the more specific and honest you are, the more motivated potential readers will be to connect with you. Too often we are afraid to really identify with the specific groups we actually belong to. “I am vegan, but I don’t want to alienate people from my blog, so I will just describe myself as a healthy eater.” “I lean strongly toward minimalist style, but I don’t want to make people with more traditional taste to not click on my link!” In the end, this approach lands you fewer loyal readers than an unapologetic, honest description of who you are.
6. The personality bio:
Ex: Emily H. Jeffries was once a middle school teacher until a handsome prince rescued her from boy farts and parent-teacher conferences so she could tend to their castle and weave tales. Her secret magical abilities are improv comedy, evading cardiovascular activity, and singing all of Les Miserables from memory. She is now represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency. Follow her adventures at www.emilyhjeffries.com. Or, connect with Emily via Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
The above is from my actual bio that I used for the BRMCWC blog post. It’s what inspired sweet Elizabeth to reach out to me, and I think it represents me well. Because I don’t have a bulky resume, and because my online presence is strong but not stand-out (yet!), I felt a personality bio would get the job done best. Right now I am trying to build one-on-one relationships in my tribe, and this kind of bio is a great way to break the ice with individuals and invite them to get to know me.
The key to any of these bios is to pack them full of clues. This is something the great Cyle Young taught me this past year at BRMCWC. I wrote a young adult fantasy. Hence, we have references to princes, castles, magical abilities, etc. If you’ve read the rough draft on Wattpad, you know there are humorous characters in the book. You also know that it is a book that may lean more toward a female market. Hence boy farts, experience with improv, and evading exercises. Cyle also taught me a fun trick, which is to hint at your age. That is where the Les Mis reference comes in. That’s a show generally adored by people who were young in the late eighties, early nineties. But also, let’s be real, anyone who likes music loves Les Mis.
Ultimately, I would have at least two flavors of author bios polished and ready to use. Choose from resume bio, follow me bio, worldview bio, or personality bio. Decide which two or three of these will best funnel your target audience toward your brand. And remember to keep in mind your end goal. Do you want more subscribers to your blog? Do you want an agent to feel like you are a safe bet? Do you want to emphasize your expertise at the end of a researched piece? Keep in mind the end goal and work backwards.
Also keep in mind that an author bio can change according to the genre. Maybe you write non-fiction and picture books? Those bios will look very different, highlighting only the personal information that is relevant to the target audience. I think it’s perfectly fine to have several author bios floating around, just make sure they do not conflict, or that one seems like a recycled version of the other.
Finally, always reread a bio before forwarding it to an editor. Some writers tend to shy away from revising bios out of laziness or lack of time. But these puppies don’t keep the way your article or short story might. Like headshots, bios can always use freshening up. People can tell when they go stale, so don’t neglect yours!
Hope that was helpful. And thank you, Elizabeth Thompson for the inspiration!